How can you support an employee diagnosed with breast cancer?

Written by
Tom Ritchie

13 Oct 2016

13 Oct 2016 • by Tom Ritchie

October marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a campaign established in the US by the American Cancer Society in 1985. Created to raise funds for research into the cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure of the disease, the movement has gone from strength to strength with the support of a network of charities across the globe. 

Close to 54,00 women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, and while various forms of treatment allow many to carry on with work, it is vital that employers provide the support needed for their staff. 

Once the company has been made aware of an employee’s diagnosis, what is the first step to providing appropriate support? Kate Palmer, assistant head of advisory at Peninsula Employment Law, believes your  initial discussions are integral to establishing the right path for the individual: “Once employers have knowledge of the employee’s diagnosis, an important first step is to meet with the employee in private and discuss their health.

“Unfortunately, this meeting is likely to be sensitive and difficult, for both employer and employee, but it is crucial; simply talking to the employee will help them feel supported at work.

“This meeting should be used to discuss: the diagnosis; who needs to be told in the business; the likely impact of cancer treatment; if any time off needs to be agreed immediately and whether any changes can be made at this stage.”

Throughout the course of treatment, it is important to discuss these changes. Recognising that your employee will be affected in a number of ways throughout this period, you’ll ned to be flexible. As cancer is immediately classed as a disability under the Equality Act, your are required to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate your employee’s needs. 

But what constitutes ‘reasonable adjustments’: “It can be as simple as changing an employees’ start time because they have to take medication that makes them drowsy, or amending absence policies to remove absences caused by their illness. 

“These adjustments don’t have to cost a lot but will make a big difference to the employee as it allows them to continue in work”, Palmer points out

When treatment leaves an employee unable to work, returning to the office after time off can be a daunting prospect. It may be beneficial to agree a period of reduced hours to allow them to slowly phase themselves back in to their previous schedule.

Palmer adds: “A phased return reduces the possibility of the employee going off work ill because they feel overwhelmed or stressed about coming back in to the workplace. Support, flexibility and constant communication is crucial at this stage to ensure a positive future for the employee at work.”